On September 7, 2005, I was one of 37 students, who accompanied 2 faculty members, Dr. Kimo Miller and Dr Nani Lee and staff members `Ainoa Naniole and Candice Sakuda to Waimanalo Elementary & Intermediate School (WEIS). The “Meet the Mentor Evening” was my first opportunity to meet my scholar and his/her parent(s) or guardians. WEIS is one of 12 Hawaii public schools in a partnership with the Century Program of the Foundation for Excellent Schools, a national program that encourages an early awareness of college. At WEIS, the program was extended to encourage early awareness of post high school vocational and occupational programs.
Waimanalo is a rural community, on the Windward side of O`ahu. As we traveled to Waimanalo, we drove through urban Honolulu on H-1, then over the Pali Hwy., taking the cutoff to Waimanalo near Castle Hospital. The landscape along the way changed dramatically. As we drew nearer to Waimanalo itself, the highway changed to a 2-lane road. The houses changed, appearing smaller and in the case of Weinberg Village, appeared to support low income a low income and transient population. There was a stark contrast between the housing for the permanent population and the transient population. If I had traveled through Hawai`i Kai and Kalama Valley, my route would have been very different. I would have passed through a high middle income area and along the coast, which represents some of the most beautiful beaches in the State.
WEIS is located on the mauka side of the road. Makai of WEIS is a complex consisting of the Waimanalo Health Services, the County Fire Department and St. George’s a Catholic Church. Immediately adjacent to the school is the Waimanalo Community Library.
Since our visit, I was able to obtain demographic information for WEIS. The school is comprised of 64% (339) Native Hawaiian, 14.6% Flipino, 5.8% (85), 5.8% ( 34) Samoan, the remainder are Asian,, Hispanic, Caucasian and other. An indicator that this is a “poor” school is the fact that 68% of the students are eligible for free lunch and 11% are eligible for reduced lunch for a total of 79%.
Anxiety was in the air as we gathered to take group photos. Everyone seemed to share in the camaraderie of shared anxiety and anticipation as we walked to the cafeteria to meet our scholars, parents/guardians of the scholars and participating teachers. As we passed through the cafeteria doors, a hush seemed to fall on the room as many eyes focused on our group. We gathered at the tables on one side of the room to look across the way at our future. Dinner was served shortly. We waited politely for the scholars and their parents to be served and then we stood in line for pizza, punch and dessert. Following the meal, one of the faculty called out the names of mentor and scholar.
My stomach took a turn as I heard my name called, I stood up and with great anxiety walked over to a young man, who stood approximately 4 feet tall. I was surprised when he extended his hand to greet me. He smiled and I was overwhelmed with relief. He seemed better prepared than I for this meeting. We walked over to a table where we began a quiet conversation. His name is Keoki and he is 9 years old. He is the 3rd child in a blended family of 8 children. He was born at Castle Hospital and raised in Waimanalo. According to Keoki, he had heard about the TCP program in school, took home the paperwork and begged his parents to allow him to be a participant. They were somewhat reluctant to sign him up because neither of them had finished high school. However, an older brother encouraged his mother and stepfather to complete the paperwork. His family hopes that he will graduate from high school and go on to college. According to Keoki, his older siblings are not good students but he is. He also bragged about being a good athlete. He is not involved in community sports because his family doesn’t have the money to pay the small fee that is required or to buy the athletic equipment that is needed. Keoki shared his “college campus” experience with me. Apparently, he was one of 75 students who visited Chaminade last year. He remembered Dr. Kimo as the “ice cream” man. He also asked me if I climb the hills at the college or if I got to ride a golf cart to class.
During the time that we were getting to now each other, we were asked to complete a form that related to goal setting. It would have been better if this was saved for another meeting so I could just get to know Keoki. Isn’t it funny how a 9 year old can diminish an adult’s anxiety? I found myself responding to his many questions, e.g. how come you’re doing this (do I tell the truth and say that I don’t like to do research and that I’ve never written a 25-30 page paper?), have you ever been to Waimanalo?, is this your first time as a mentor?, are your teachers nice?, will you really come to see me in Waimanalo or will you be just another flake? …etc. Wow, the frankness of youth. If I wasn’t committed before today, this child has drawn me like a magnet to commitment.
After a while, she got it. Before I got to Waimanalo, I wondered, what kind of parent would not encourage their child to finish high school and go on to college, I know that mine did. What kind of parent would not make enough money for school lunch? I would not have liked being a “free lunch” student. I think that others would make fun of me or ostracize me, as a kid, that’s the same thing. I also had a chance to speak to the mother. She seemed really suspicious of me and I tried to let her know that I was a nice guy. I asked a few guarded questions because I had no way of predicting her responses. She shared a little. She had been a foster child and never knew her siblings. As a young teenager, she wanted to have a family. She started young at the age of 15. Keoki is the 3rd of her 5 children with his father. That union was a disaster but she stayed in it because of her 5 children. It ended in a disaster. She is remarried to a nice man with a steady job. He had 3 children for whom he has custody. She works in maintenance at Castle Hospital. Even with 2 jobs, its hard to keep it together with 8 kids. Waimanalo is somewhat affordable. They live in a 3 bedroom 1 bath house near the school.
When the principal announced that the event was over, Keoki reached out and hugged me, I was overwhelmed. His mother hugged me too and said, thank you.
Wow, how could I be so judgmental. When I first read about the mentoring program, I thought, how could that project relate to Ethics…must be a “pet project” of the professors. As our introduction to Ethics emerged into “testing” our perspectives when we were placed in challenging situations, I began to wonder, ‘where are we going with this’. Now, I’m in a real live situation. I am out of the protective cocoon of the university and I will be dealing with the future of a young child. What path to take, what can I say to encourage him to achieve his potential. I found that after meeting Keoki and his mother, my own attitude, my own framework was challenged.
What framework am I using? What framework will I use? Looks like I have to alter my lens….I really have tunnel vision. Before speaking with Keoki and his mother, I was looking at the clothes that they were wearing. Nothing fancy…even old and out of style. Once I got to “know” them, I realized that it wasn’t going to be a superficial relationship…brand name clothing, Gucci bags, Teva slippers ….it was the individual.